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Police officers detain a man during a protest against the jailing of opposition leader Alexei Navalny in Vladivostok.

Over 4,000 people detained at Alexei Navalny protests across Russia

Protesters defied government warnings to rally from Vladivostok to Saint Petersburg in a second weekend of mass demonstrations.

LAST UPDATE | 31 Jan 2021

RUSSIAN POLICE HAVE detained over 4,000 protesters as activists take to the streets across the country today demanding the release of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.

The OVD-Info monitor said 4,027 people had been detained today, after reporting more than 4,000 arrested at similar protests last weekend.

The number of detentions today hit 1,167 in Moscow and 862 in Saint Petersburg, it said, as the protests were coming to a close after a day that saw thousands rally in cities across the country.

Protesters defied government warnings to rally from Vladivostok to Saint Petersburg in a second weekend of mass demonstrations over the arrest of President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critic.

Navalny was detained at a Moscow airport in mid-January after flying back to Russia from Germany where he was recovering from an August poisoning he blames on the Kremlin.

The 44-year-old anti-corruption campaigner is being held in a Moscow detention centre and faces years of potential jail time in several different criminal cases, despite calls from Western governments for his release.

In moves not seen in years in Moscow, authorities locked down the centre of the capital Sunday, with hundreds of police lining the streets, central Metro stations closed and the movements of pedestrians restricted.

Protesters who had hoped to gather outside the headquarters of the FSB security service were instead scattered to various parts of the city as organisers made last-minute changes in locations.

AFP journalists saw dozens of protesters detained and taken into police vans. It was unclear amid the chaos how many people took part in the demonstration.

The Russian Union of Journalists said around 35 people working for media outlets were also detained today.

45 Russian Protest Dublin Members of the Russian community who live in Ireland protest outside the Russian Embassy in Dublin today. Leon Farrell / Leon Farrell / /

Protests also took place in other countries, including outside the Russian Embassy in Dublin.

US condemns ‘harsh tactics’

US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, on Twitter condemned “the persistent use of harsh tactics against peaceful protesters and journalists by Russian authorities for a second week straight”.

The Russian foreign ministry hit back, accusing the United States of “gross interference” in its affairs and of using “online platforms controlled by Washington” to promote the protests.

Hundreds marched through the centre of Moscow chanting “Freedom!” and “Putin is a thief!” before arriving outside Matrosskaya Tishina prison where Navalny was being held.

Several dozen people were detained at the prison, with police chasing down protesters in the snow outside the complex.

“The people in power don’t want to listen to anything or to anybody,” 34-year-old vet Darya told AFP at the Moscow rally.

In the second city of Saint Petersburg, police closed off the main thoroughfare Nevsky Prospekt, shut Metro stations and police cars were parked all across the centre, an AFP journalist reported.

Police were seen roughly detaining several protesters, including one young man who was left with a bloodied head.

Local media reported that police used tear gas and tasers in the city, while one policeman reportedly threatened protesters with his service weapon.

“The whole centre is cordoned off,” said Natalya Grigoryeva, who came to the Saint Petersburg rally with her daughter. “And who is this all against, against their own people?”

Earlier protesters had rallied in cities including the Pacific port of Vladivostok, where dozens escaped the police on the frozen waters of the Amur Bay and danced in a circle.

Several thousand were also reported to have protested in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk despite temperatures dropping to minus 20 degrees Celsius.

‘People are outraged’

Local politician and Navalny ally Helga Pirogova told AFP that today’s protest in Novosibirsk was potentially bigger than the week before.

“People are still outraged by what is happening,” the 32-year-old said.

Russian authorities issued several warnings against participating in the unauthorised rallies and threatened criminal charges against protesters.

The head of Russia’s Human Rights Council, Valery Fadeyev, called today’s events a “provocation” and said they have “nothing to do with protecting rights”, news agency TASS reported.

Navalny is due in court several times this week, including on 2 February on charges of violating the terms of a 2014 suspended sentence.

His wife Yulia posted a picture of her family on Instagram today, urging supporters to make their voices heard.

“If we remain silent, then tomorrow they will come for any one of us,” she wrote.

Navalny’s team said Yulia was detained by police shortly after she announced her arrival at the rally on social media.

Last week several Navalny associates were placed under house arrest pending charges for violating coronavirus restrictions by calling people to join protests.

In a continued effort to clamp down on online platforms used to coordinate the rallies, Russia’s media watchdog today ordered social networks to block posts with “false” information about the protests, including those “over-estimating” numbers of participants.

Many of those joining the protests have voiced anger at authorities over a video released by Navalny’s team alleging that Putin had been gifted a $1.35 billion (€1.1 billion) property on the Black Sea coast, a claim denied by the Kremlin.

© AFP 2021

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